Yorm Ama Abledu is a Ghanaian lawyer with six years’ experience. She is a legal academic at the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA Law School) and a senior international attorney at Centurion Law Group, a Harvard-certified negotiator firm with significant expertise that cuts across diverse sectors such as project finance, infrastructure development, tax, real estate, and other noted key practice areas.
Yorm’s expertise cuts across corporate law, energy, mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, corporate governance, and company secretarial services. She is also a seasoned advocate with in-depth knowledge of navigating regulatory affairs in Ghana.
Yorm has exemplified a commitment to advancing many charitable and civic causes, most notably in her support for legal services to the poor. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion of women in the Energy Industry. She is certified in Human Rights and Oil and Gas Law from Fordham University and her passion for Human Rights Law was reflected in how she won a total of 57 human rights cases on behalf of several indigents over a 12-month period in her position as Assistant Public Defender under the Legal Aid Commission, where she continues to provide pro-bono services.
Yorm was recently named the Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year by the International Bar Association (IBA). This feat has only been achieved by one African lawyer before Yorm. Yorm is the second African and first Ghanaian female lawyer to win the award. The IBA Award is “presented to young lawyers who have shown not only excellence in their work and achievements in their career, but also a commitment to the professional and ethical standards as well as commitment to the larger community.”
In this interview with Anthonia Ochei, Legal Business Associate at BusinessDay, Yorm Ama Abledu talks about her experience as a young lawyer, career, inclusion and role of women in Africa’s legal industry.
Congratulations on your award as The IBA Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year; Tell us about your practice and how this has developed over the years.
It’s been quite an interesting journey, what I would call a mixed bag, I trained as a corporate lawyer in one of the big law firms in the country. Immediately after, I worked as a Public Defence Attorney for the State at the Legal Aid Commission in Accra where I continue to provide pro bono services. After full time work at the Legal Aid Commission, I worked as a litigation lawyer for about three years before moving into academia.
You have had an illustrious legal career so far. What would you say are the biggest lessons you have learned?
Thank you. I believe some of the biggest lessons I learnt are:
My efforts as an individual go a long way to change lives and inspire others.
To never give up, to remain resilient and overcome any challenge that I am faced with, and
Challenges are opportunities to grow.
You are the second African and first Ghanaian female lawyer to win the IBA Outstanding Young Lawyer Award, what would you attribute this feat to?
As a practicing Christian, I would attribute this success to God. I am also grateful to those before me, particularly Kimathi Kuenyehia (the first African to win this prestigious award) for setting the pace and leaving the door open for the young lawyers in Ghana.
This achievement would not have been possible without the investment, care, support and love of my family, the patience and wisdom of my professors and mentors, and the confidence of my seniors, and colleagues.
My obsessive knack for excellence, my desire to rise and stand above in all I do; even the seemingly unimportant tasks and my commitment to maintaining the highest professional and ethical standards are contributing factors.
I also believe that my desire for giving back to my community, sometimes at my own cost, was also a factor.
For the benefit of the younger generation of lawyers, could you please briefly share about your journey to the top?
My journey to the top was not all roses, I was privileged to have had support from my mentors and coaches. I have also had the opportunity to be trained by the best in the legal profession and learn from them as well.
In a society plagued with workplace discrimination including in the legal profession, what challenges did you encounter in your journey and what advice do you have for others?
The challenge for me was to reshape my mind and to start thinking that all things are possible especially for me as a woman. The day I overcame that challenge, I knew nothing could stop me. I knew I am able to do all things by the Grace of God. Next, I had to learn how to balance the pressures of work with my personal life and personal goals. That did not come easy.
I cannot emphasize enough to the African woman that; success has no gender. Work hard and your dream will become a reality.
As a senior international attorney in your firm, do you think adequate opportunity for growth and leadership is given to young women in law firms? What are best practices globally?
I believe there are. At my firm, my bosses actively support and empower women to succeed. I am a testament to their constant support and encouragement. I am particularly encouraged by the number of women in management positions at the firm. There is a clear-cut transparent framework for career progression at the firm.
I am also aware of the fact that in many international law firms, particular attention is given to empowering women in the workplace, encouraging them to take positions of leadership and specially providing avenues for women’s growth and training. But like everything else, more can be done.
Do you think the issue is lack of capacity building and development opportunities for women or their inability to take advantage of those that exist?
To me, both issues are certainly issues. The capacity building and development opportunities for women are not enough, or even where they exist in abundance, they are not made by women, for women.
In recent times, we have seen many organizations put together capacity building and development opportunities for women. But most of these initiatives are merely to satisfy a quota, or as some form of tokenism, to prove to investors, stakeholders and other third-parties that the organization is socially “woke.” So, at the end of the day, these initiatives end up being very surface-level, not as impactful as they should be.
Also, even where these opportunities exist, they are not made with women in mind. There are some things that men will not understand about professional life as a woman, same way there are some things that women will simply not get about professional life as a man. Because of this, you cannot reasonably expect that men will consider certain perspectives in creating opportunities for women in terms of capacity building, growth and development.
How can we ensure that diversity and inclusion is made a core part of the legal industry? Particularly in these climes.
The best way to ensure diversity and inclusion in any industry, is to entrust issues of diversity and inclusion to the people you’re trying to include. Factor them into every decision, engage them, ascertain their perspective, and create enabling environments for them to operate in.
In the legal industry specifically, more black women, more members of other marginalized groups should be included in senior management roles, once they meet the merit qualifications. Representation is key. And allowing them to occupy senior management roles, gives them the opportunity to introduce more initiatives that will ensure the inclusion of other members in their social group.
What are some of the best ways to support younger female lawyers into leadership roles in the legal profession?
Older women lawyers have the most responsibility in this regard. All the things you wish were done for you when you were younger in the profession, do for us. Create those opportunities for us. Speak on our behalf, and trust in our capabilities. There is so much more room at the top, and younger women lawyers can share this space with our seniors.
Younger female lawyers would also benefit from mentoring and coaching from senior lawyers who are concerned with their growth and development. As a beneficiary of many mentorship programmes, I can attest to the power of mentoring in my growth as a young professional.
What is your personal and professional outlook for 2023?
2023 is for learning and growth in every area of my life; professionally, spiritually, physically and mentally. The ultimate goal is to challenge myself to take up new spaces.
Law is a challenging profession, and like anything that must be done well, it requires significant investment of time and energy. What do you do in your free time to relax?
I travel a lot to see things from new perspectives, build my confidence, and develop deeper empathy for others. I also treat myself to the spa for a massage to relieve me of any muscle soreness and pain. This also helps me to relax. I am also a huge tea aficionado, so every now and then, I love to collect and enjoy new and exotic teas.
On a final note, where do you see legal practice in Africa in another 10 years?
In the next 10 years, I see that the expansion of legal education which would lead to an influx of young lawyers in the system. Statistics show that the following; M&A, Data privacy/Cybersecurity, Investigations, Labor and Employment, Litigation, and Class action would be the fastest growing areas of law in the next 10 years.
I think legal practice will be driven by technology and only those who have the skill set will breakthrough. The market will demand more for those who are specialists, not generalist lawyers and your track record will land the juiciest engagements.